Thursday, November 16, 2017

10 Key takeaways from the SecTor

This week I was lucky enough to attend the SecTor conference.


It was interesting to network with a group of people whose job it was to find weaknesses in computer programs and defend against them. Not to mention, the lunch was pretty good as well.

The whole conference had lots of interesting sessions and tracks.

Here are my 10 Key takeaways from the conference on IT security:

1. Phishing is the no.1 way to get control of a laptop (so be aware of the emails that you click on). Once you get some control over a laptop, then you can use it to gain access on other networks. We saw how you can use a Git repo to execute malicious programs without leaving a trail.

2. Keep backups offsite and disconnected from the web.

3. If it's not in the budget it's not getting done. If you want to increase security for your site/business/developers etc. make sure it's in the budget.

4. Cheap "smart" devices (especially from China) are easiest to hack into as they have numerous vulnerabilities. We learned in one session how to get control of a smart lock, a smart fridge, a smart thermostat etc. One of the smart coffee machines used to broadcast the wifi credentials of the house in plaintext as part of its programming! Once you have that, you can gain access using packet sniffing and detection of other devices in the house. The presenter showed us how he was opening someone's garage door who had installed a cheap remote garage opener, bought online from China. So buy devices from reputable companies who do patches and upgrades all the time.

5. Security often remains an afterthought. For example, most ATMs run on Windows XP, an old operating system that is now no longer supported.

6.To my surprise, there are a lot of women who work in IT security. This is an anomaly compared to rest of IT sector, especially developers, where there's 1 woman for 10 men.

7.You need to prepare a playbook and drill for incident breaches and have policies in place on what to do.

8.You have to have a "baseline" of activities of what is considered "normal". Any deviation from that is when you should be suspicious. Most breaches are detected on average 6-12 days after when they occur.

9. The simplest common sense measures often thwart costly breaches. For example a difficult password policy, or employees sharing credentials because creating accesses for new users takes too much time, is often how security breaks down.

10. You are more vulnerable common failures and innocent mistakes, and rarely due to malicious activity. Such as not patching regularly, or sharing credentials. Once you tackle those, then the serious criminals can be your focus.

It's a two day conference in Toronto, and it's returning next year in October. If you are in IT, this is a worthwhile conference.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

When Feminism Is Superior to The Prophet, Reevaluate

When your feminism causes you to downplay the Prophet, you gotta rethink your values.

Take a look at this article: "Give Muhammad A Chance"

In this article, the writer (cheered on by other women of similar ilk) says Khadijah was the prize, not Muhammad (pbuh) , and she married down and gave him a chance (and then compares herself to Khadijah and her husband to Muhammad (pbuh) and then congratulates herself).

Now I wish this writer all the best in her life. But Khadijah liked Muhammad and proposed to him. In a society where women weren't respected much, this shows the elevated stature and maturity of a woman like Khadija (who was around 3 years older than Muhammad (pbuh)). Why did Khadija like Muhammad (pbuh)?

Because he was different from other men. He was honest. He was trust worthy. He cared for the oppressed. He cared for the orphans. He never wished ill on others. This is what Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) herself testified on the night of the first revelation.  
The writer says, "At the time of marriage, Khadijah (ra) was the prize, not Muhammad (saw)."
I am not going to say either of them was the "prize", or that one of them married down or up. Theirs was a holy marriage made in heaven where each partner supported the other. Trying to twist that marriage to fit one's feminist narrative is falsehood at its worst.

Again there are many things wrong in our society. But we don't need to twist Islamic history to fit our narrative agenda to "solve" these problems.

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Nouman Ali Khan "Scandal"

The last two weeks or so had seen the Nouman Ali Khan scandal ( with various hashtags such as #NAK #NAKScandal #MakeDuaMyHotFantasy ) trending on the Muslim social media, particularly in North America. When it came out, it immediately captured everyone's attention as Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan enjoys such a high and stellar reputation. His work on making the Holy Quran accessible in the English language is unparalleled in the modern times.

Of course, he denied all allegations, while claiming to be never a perfect man. And to be fair to him, there were really no allegations - simply slander, innuendo and hearsay. Spread mostly by feminist blogs, all the accusers were mute on what he exactly did or stands accused of, except that they called him an 'abuser' or a 'predatory daee'.

Now at that time, after remaining silent for some time, I released a video.

My thoughts on Nouman Ali Khan "Allegations", the curse of feminists

At the time the scandal broke, we only had one duty. We had to presume our brother was innocent, and we MUST demand a proper evidence from the accusers, and an exact accusation. This was the summary of my video.

One of the bloggers, someone whom I have a lot of respect for the work she does otherwise, later stated: "The public revelation regarding NAK was not handled in an ideal manner."


When making an accusation against someone with a stature like Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan, there should be no ambiguity, and the accusation should be crystal clear. If the accusers had come out straight away and said exactly what they accused the preacher of, and the witnesses, and time of alleged incidents, there would no fitnah, and they would be following the proper way to do things. Instead, we had a huge mess, and the community was "either you support a molester and you are anti-women" or "you hate Islam and are trying to take down one of the men of God".

On October 3, 2017, a statement was released by a few prominent Muslims on this scandal.

This statement should certainly make anyone pause. While you defend your brother, you must also keep an open mind when an evidence is presented. Here, very strong, credible people are saying your brother has done something wrong, so their statement must be given proper weight.

However, while this statement is a step in the right direction, there is still a lot of innuendo. What exactly is "spiritual abuse"? Also, the scholars should have listed the exact behaviour they found "conduct unbecoming of any believer". For example, if you strictly believe in zabiha slaughter, if I eat a Big Mac at McDonalds is that "conduct unbecoming of any believer"? 

Thus, if the original victims are NOT ready to come out and say exactly what they are accusing the preacher of, then this discussion is still moot. those who "broke" the original story: you should not have said anything unless the 'victims' are ready to come out and say it. Until they are ready to be public, this is a private matter and best left private.

I do not subscribe to this mentality of hiding the victims' name. Nor do I even know for sure if they are victims, or spurned women now out for revenge. This is not a "bro club" thing. It is following proper process. The women who are involved with the Ustadh, allegedly, were not forced or coerced into a relationship. They went in with full eyes open, supposedly. They are adults. This notion of hiding the names of women accusers, believing them blindly, and blaming the man all the time is a very extreme feminism trait. If we are to support the victims, we have to know who the victims are and how they have been victimized.

You have to ask yourself, at the end of all of this mess, what exactly has been achieved? How has justice been supported? What is the end game?

The only thing that is remaining is a big, holy mess.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Exploring Nature in Owen Sound and Grey County, Ontario

Owen Sound is a small town located just a bit more than 2 hours driving north west of Toronto. It's part of a bigger countryside called Grey County. Lots of protected green land, forests, farms and natural wonders dot this area. Hiking, zip lining, treetop trekking, camping, fishing, horseback riding etc. are all very popular activities here in the summer and fall. Given that we have young kids, we were somewhat restricted in our outdoor activities, but still decided to make a weekend trip to Owen Sound.

Hiking through this heavily wooded area, it was surprising to see how cool a forest cover could make your environment. It was a warm 29C outside, yet it was easily a little chilly under these trees. Then of course, there were sudden clearings and you were right beside a pond.

This was the Inglis Falls Conservation area. The hike is through a marked trail in Harrison Park, and very easy with kids, although you cannot take your stroller here (your kids must be old enough to walk and run).

Parking nearby in the conservation area (near the dam) is $8 for the day. All of this, of course is for Inglis Falls.

It's one of the many smaller waterfalls that dot the Grey County area. You can actually take a Waterfalls Driving Tour that can let you see as many as 18 such waterfalls in the area. Not all of them are easily accessible and require some rough hiking. And when I say small, I am comparing them to the giants such as Niagara Falls and so on. Inglis Falls, for example, is 18m tall.

With Owen Sound being the only sizeable city nearby after Collingwood, there's a lot of undisturbed land here and with that, a lot of wild flora and fauna.

You could also drive around a bit, and explore the farm and the countryside from nearby lookout points.

We even saw lots of butterflies in action on a farm near the Bruce Conservation Area. Unlike Toronto, where you hardly see them in nature unless you go looking for them in various parks, here the butterflies seemed to be quite unafraid of people and didn't flinch or fly away when you went near to take pictures.

Farming is big here, and when we drove and parked on a lookout point on a high hill, we could see farm country for miles in all directions.

Owen Sound also has some great beaches (such as Cobble Beach) on the fantastic Georgian Bay waters, and nearby on Kelso Beach there was a festival going on, with visitors having the chance to get a ride on a hot air balloon. This was the first time I did this, and it was quite the experience (especially getting on and off the balloon). We did this with both kids!

One of the must-go places in the summer is the Grey Roots Museum and Archives. Amongst their many attractions, they have a great tiny model of Owen Sound in the 1800s.

You can see miniature horse drawn carriages and almost hear the sounds and cries of the times of Sherlock Holmes in this model.

During the time we went, they also had a castle exhibition, partnered with Legos. Lots of castle exhibits, and lots of Lego-built castles for everyone to see.

In addition, they also had play areas for kids where they could build their own castles with Lego (provided).

The museum also has a huge outdoor heritage village exhibit. This is where they have a whole village with the original buildings etc. from the 1800s. You can walk through this exhibit and there are folks there (dressed in period costumes) who explain how Irish refugees and settlers made Owen Sound home. You see a tiny cottage and marvel that a family of 10 used to sleep there.

There was a huge building that I thought was the church, but it was the village school. I was surprised to learn that there was only one instructor here, but each classroom had kids from ten grades learning at ones. Yes, ten! The teacher would seat the students in rows so the first row was all grade 1, the next grade 2, and so on. Then he or she would proceed down the rows and oversee the work and all the students. It was very much like the village in Back To The Future 3.  The kids really enjoyed this museum.

One final waterfall (and hike) we saw was the Weaver's Creek Falls.

This waterfall has two lookout points. The first can be accessed by kids, but the second one, which I didn't go to, is the one where most people choose to go to. It's a steep walk (almost a climb) down the cliff (about 20-30 meters) and you can get right at the base of the waterfall for some fantastic pictures.

Overall, Owen Sound is a good place for a day trip and overnight stay. When you go with young kids you are slightly restricted in what outdoor activities you can do, but if you plan your trip it can be fun for everyone involved.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ten Eid Ul Adha Etiquettes

(these are not necessarily from hadith or sunnah or religion, but also from my common sense)

 1. If you are collecting the meat from a butcher, there will be people on the day of Eid at the butcher asking you for meat as charity. Do not question their integrity (I am not aware of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) ever investigating the financial well being of a person asking him for charity). Just donate a little meat to them. Because of the refugee crisis in the USA and the world, there are a lot of needy people in and around Toronto.

2. When visiting a house, do not ask "have you given a sacrifice" as you don't know their personal economical situation. They may be paying off a debt or some other expense which takes priority over the ritual sacrifice.

3. In the case that you visit a house where you KNOW the people to be financially well off and somewhat non-observant, it is OK to tell them about udhiya and sacrifice and charity, as we are asked to preach the goodness of our religion.

4. If you owe someone money for the sacrifice (say the organizer of your group) please pay it off immediately. It is not a sacrifice until YOU have paid out of your own pocket.

5. While it is not required to donate some meat for charity, it is a commonly accepted good practice.

6. Eid is one of the few visible celebrations in the Muslim community. If you do NOT celebrate it, and do not take time off work, nor imbibe the celebrations in your kids, do NOT complain when they later come to you as to why Christmas is so much better than Eid. Give gifts and money to your kids. It's sunnah.

7. If you have sacrificed a lamb, remember that the Prophet's favourite piece of meat was the shank of a lamb (as far as I am aware of). So enjoy that piece - it's sunnah! :-)

8. Please call ahead before visiting a house. Yes, it's Eid, so guests are expected, but it is also the custom of the land to announce your visit beforehand, so the hosts can be prepared to receive you.

9. Have some common sense when posting pictures of Eid. Is it really required to post pictures from the slaughter house? We all know (or should know) where our food comes from. But our Facebook (and other social media) have friends who have fled warzones, or who are triggered by pictures of blood or otherwise. Pictures of your animal being garlanded or fed before the slaughter, for example, make much better sense.

10. Have fun and enjoy. It's Eid.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Great American Eclipse 2017

It was about five years ago when I first read about that a total solar eclipse would occur over North America in 2017. I remember making an entry in my Google Calendar (an event 5 years then into the future! ) for August 21, 2017 - "Total Solar Eclipse, 2017, Nashville".

I always wanted to experience the totality of a full solar eclipse. And why not? It's a once in a generation or lifetime experience. I was very young when the Middle East experienced a total solar eclipse, but from where I lived, the sun was only covered 80% or so. Ever since then, I had always wanted to experience a total solar eclipse. So when I saw that in 2017 there would be one in North America, I thought to myself, why not?

Yesterday morning I flew in to Nashville. Along with my brother, we had researched the city and a few places on where to see the eclipse. We did a recon, and decided on Centennial Park, right by the Parthenon. This morning, along with our family and friends, we came early in the morning and staked out a picnic spot in the park.

It was a long wait. We had cards, we had foods, and there were toilets nearby, but the sun was beating down hot and strong. It was a balmy 33 C. Many times the clouds covered the sun, leading for many of us to fear all of our planning and travelling would come to nought, but the clouds would then veer away. And right on time at 11.58 pm CDT, to huge cheers to the thousands in the park, the eclipse began!

We played cards to while away the time, in between taking peeks at the sun (safely, with our eclipse protective glasses), as the sun grew smaller and smaller. 

The air was noticeably starting to become cooler and cooler. I took these pictures with my camera on a tripod, and a solar filter covering the lens.

Slowly the anticipating started to grow. We packed our cards and began to wait anxiously. There were no clouds in the sky. It was clear. Totality would begin around 1.27 pm CDT.

I had decided early on I wouldn't take a lot of pictures, but rather experience the moment. It was the best decision. As the air became cooler, and the sun smaller and smaller, the birds started to cry, and the crickets started to chirp. Their chirping grew louder and louder. Everyone started to cheer more passionately. It was a very exciting, surreal, amazing, superlative time. You have to experience it to know what I am talking about; it cannot be described. And right on cue, the sun disappeared!

Totality lasted for about 2 minutes, and it was nothing like I had experienced before. I had only read about how day suddenly turns to night, and how it suddenly feels like you have entered another universe, and how suddenly other worldly you feel in this great cosmic dance, but nothing can compare to the real deal.

And then just like that, there was a small diamond ring in the corner, and then the sun slowly began to re-emerge, to huge cheers.

And just like that, the Great American Eclipse was now done. It was certainly something I am glad I took the initiative to plan, and experience. The next total solar eclipses in North America will be in 2021 and 2024. Hope to experience it again then!

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Happy Canada Day, eh? The Top 5

 It's Canada's 150th birthday, and we are throwing a grand party from coast to coast to coast. I am glad my parents came here oh so long ago from the Middle East to pursue a better life for themselves and their kids, and I've always been really proud to be a Canadian. So from memory, here's some top moments of being a Canadian.

1. My West Coast trip.

If you wanted to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, it's right here at home in Canada.

2. The time when we won the Olympic hockey gold.

Well, there's several.




But the greatest of them HAS to be the 2002 victory. Everything was in place for a great story. The game was in United States, our biggest rival, AND they were playing the final against us. The return of the NHL stars. The lucky loonie. The late equalizer.


3. Justin Trudeau's Election Night Speech, 2015

It had been a bruising election. On one hand was an ego-driven Prime Minister campaigning on policies of hatred and bigotry targeted at Muslims, and against niqab wearing women in particular. It would be a precursor to the campaign of hate in the United States to follow in 2016. The election grew particularly ugly in Quebec, with incidents of attacks against Muslims and minorities reported. The Prime Minister then spoke of "old stock Canadians" and seems to have been hell bent on wining by dividing the country. We Canadians needed to repudiate that, and to reject that so thoroughly that the mere thoughts of such bigotry would be buried, at least for a little while.

Enter Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the man who built Canada as it is today. He won, and won a majority. And in his very first speech as Prime Minister-elect, on his election night victory, he gave speech for the ages. One particular section (19:30), about a hijab wearing Muslim woman, even caught the attention of Americans and one of my American friends mused that we would never hear an American politician say something like that.

4. The kindness of Canadians when I broke my foot

Toronto is a big city. It's a busy, bustling, and often chaotic city. Yet, in early 2016, when I had a broken foot and limped to work on crutches, I never had to stand on public transit. People would rush to offer me their seat. This was also the time when I saw a women being racist towards a minority woman, and the whole train basically turned on that lady and forced her to get out at that next station.

5. The day when I became a citizen

Canada is not a perfect country. It's a work in progress. Some injustices, especially towards the First Nations, are still quite recent. Yet, over all countries in the world, it has something that others don't.

You have to live here to get it.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Rainy weather? Or respite from the heat?

We have all heard the "glass half empty half full" maxim. I was recently reminded of this.

I shared a screenshot of the weather forecast yesterday and captioned it with "Seriously ?!!!"

It was a horrible weather forecast for weary Torontonians waiting for the much promised summer weather. I mean, this is end of May, and nearly June!!! Where is the heat?

One of my friends then commented, "Barakah for fasting".

I was literally blown away with that comment. I never even looked at it that way. I mean, my last post was about how hard Ramadan could be for some people fasting here for 17 hours in the heat! And here I was, showing cool, wet temperatures and complaining about it. Not to mention that rain is considered a time when prayers are accepted, as is Ramadan, and here the two were together.

Truly, a Barakah.

PS. BTW the latest forecast has called for rain even on Saturday. So ...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ramadan Can Be Hard

This is the time of the year the our Facebook feed is full of articles about the 'wonders of Ramadan', or of how this is a 'magical time of the year' and how to 'increase our piety and good deeds' or even the occasional 'how to get fit in Ramadan' guide.

Without taking ANY thing away from those posts - really Ramadan IS a wonderful time of the year, it IS a time to get fit, both spiritually and mentally, and it IS something we wait for all year round, we also have to acknowledge one important thing.

Ramadan can be hard.

Yes, it's not a blasphemous statement to make that fasting at this time of the year can be hard for various groups of people. Rather than shunning those views, let's examine them and learn why it can be hard, and how we can plan for it.

If it wasn't hard, it wouldn't be a test. The Quran is clean in 2:183, that fasting is a way for us to attain piety. Piety is also tied to discipline, which means doing what is prescribed for us and abstaining from what is forbidden. That is not easy, but Ramadan gives us a training in discipline. So why can it be hard?

  1. Physically these are the longest times of the year. In Toronto, Canada Fajr is around 4 am and Maghreb around 9 pm. That's almost 17 hours without food, and more importantly, water.
  2. For those that work in a non-Muslim country, everyone around you is eating and drinking, and carrying on as normal. Meanwhile you are hungry, thirsty, and yet expected to be as productive and energetic as usual. Unlike Muslim countries, where Ramadan almost has a magical holiday atmosphere around it, this is missing in the West.
  3. For those that live in the northern areas, it's hard to find the time to pray full taraweeh, sleep, eat proper iftar and suhoor, and also put in a proper day's work in the office.
  4. For those that don't have too many other Muslim friends, it's hard to get into the spirit of Ramadan when you are the only one observing it.

I am sure there are other reasons (both legitimate and made up) on why Ramadan can be hard, but these are some of the main ones. Here's some of my suggestions on how to deal with it.

  1. First of all, know that Ramadan is a gift from Allah for you, so be thankful for it. It is important to approach Ramadan with a positive frame of mind. If someone you love gives you a gift, you don't criticize it. When the gift is from the Most High, you shouldn't find complaints such as 'oh it's June and it's hot' etc. Approach Ramadan thinking it's something you want to make full use of this year, and you will. That is Faith.
  2. If you have some health issues, address them beforehand. A Muslim doctor will know and acknowledge your beliefs, but a non-Muslim doctor who is familiar with your religion and respects it can provide useful information on how to deal with certain issues. Know that you don't HAVE to fast if it's medically harmful. If you are pregnant, for example, or sick, or travelling, you are given exemptions by Allah. Especially if you are pregnant you shouldn't be putting your unborn child at risk. If you need to take certain injections, for example if you are diabetic, there are ways you can do that and fast. Bottom line - clear it with your doctor before Ramadan.
  3. Find (and make) more Muslim friends. This goes without saying. Not only will they help you by providing a support system in Ramadan, but will also be helpful outside of Ramadan. A person is known by the company they keep.
  4. Attend the mosque for prayers. Maghreb is a good time to attend, as many mosques have iftars, but also attend simply to earn more hasanah and be imbibed with that Ramadan feeling. Even if you cannot stay for the full 20 taraweeh, at least stay for the 8. Or even just the fard part of Isha
  5. Do NOT make this month about food. Do not obsess over sumptuous iftars or speed eat through suhoor. Make a conscious effort to eat healthy, detox and take Ramadan as an opportunity to lose weight.
  6. Read (and try to understand) the Quran. Ramadan is the month of the Quran. This is a wonderful book. The more you read, the more you delve into the tafseer, the more you start to love the Book and the more you marvel at its beauty.
  7. If you have children, even if they are not fasting, involve them in religious activities (even if at least one a day). There's lots of facebook groups on Ramadan arts and crafts, for example.
Do you have any suggestions on how you make Ramadan easier to observe? 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Condo Gardening As A Beginner

I was never a gardener. It always seemed too much work. I used to watch my mother garden, and see how she toiled away in the heat and how meticulous she was with her plants and think - wow, that's a lot of dedication for some greenery. So I never picked up gardening as a hobby. When we moved to our own place in a condo, I thought we would never have plants or even do any bit of gardening.

BCCB (which stands for Bangladeshi Canadian - Canadian Bangladeshi) is an organization that I am part of. It has over 20,000 members across its various chapters throughout Canada, and one of the chapters is a local gardening club, and I was on their mailing list.

They were holding an Aloe Vera workshop, and it sounded interesting, so I signed up for it. You attend an hour long workshop where they give you a free (yes, free!) pot, soil and a baby Aloe Vera plant. I attended the workshop, and at the end of the day, I now had a plant without any place to put it on my condo.

So I was intrigued. Let's see if I can keep this plant alive, I thought. I mean, water once a week and leave it alone. Shouldn't be too hard, should it?

So I found a place on top of my souvenirs shelf that received a good amount of sunlight throughout the day, and left the plant there. I would water it once a week as instructed. After some time, I saw one of the leaves wither, but the rest seemed to be fine, and even seemed to be growing. This isn't so bad, I thought. It was actually nice to come home and check on the plant.

Then I saw another workshop by the same BCCB group. They were having a lau workshop. Lau, also known as bottle gourd, or kaddu. Now which Bengali doesn't like bottle gourd? And once again, seeds would be given out free, along with soil and pots.

Can I do this, I thought? I mean, for this I would need a proper garden, eventually. That's what my parents' place was for. So this time both my wife and I signed up for the workshop.

The workshop was certainly interesting. We even learned about plant sex! If we ever meet up in person, ask me about that story. But it was definitely enjoyable. I never realized I could sit and listen to an hour of someone talking about lau and be fascinated by it. So when we came home, we found a sunny spot beside one of our windows, put some boxes there and then out pots, and waited.

For some time, there was nothing. I looked every day, and waited. Suddenly, one evening my wife excitedly called me to the window. The baby plant had emerged!

The growth was soon very rapid. It was amazing to see just how fast this plant could grow from nothing. The way the seedlings turned into a plant reminded me of this verse of Allah.

"So observe the effects of the mercy of Allah - how He gives life to the earth after its lifelessness. Indeed, that [same one] will give life to the dead, and He is over all things competent." Quran, 30:50

The instructions were to keep the soil moist, but not wet or over drenched. We took care of that, and also made sure there was enough sunlight.

It was soon time to be planting them in the soil, but we had to take care of sudden dips in the temperature. Even in May, we had a frost warning early in the month. The temperature during the day was good, but at nights it dipped rapidly. The instructions we got was to wait for Victoria Day or even the last weekend of May to plant these.

Yesterday I saw creeping vines come out of the plant. This was the sign that it is almost ready to planted into a garden, along with a supporting trellis. So that is my next project. Waiting for next weekend so I can plant them into my parents' garden, and then build a trellis for them.

I also bought a small mini rose plant (called a kordana rose). So that is the extent of my mini condo garden right now, all on top of a box by the window sill.

The plan now is to build a proper shelf by that window, and then start growing sprint onions and perhaps even some micro-greens.

Wish me luck this growing season!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

7 Tips on How to Enjoy a Family Vacation

Now that summer is almost here (we have 29 degree weather tomorrow!), it's time to think about vacations. And with kids in tow, here's some ways I found you can completely enjoy a vacation with toddlers and infants.

0. Start rested and excited.

I put this at number 0 as this is something you need to do before your trip. Finish your packing one day (or even days) before, NOT the night before. Take a deep breath and relax, before your trip. And start to read up on things to do or what to see, and get excited! You can even involve your kids in this activity. Before we visited UAE, I saw a few things on YouTube with my son, and some interesting facts about them, so when we were there he could get excited about seeing it in real life.

1. Make the journey enjoyable.

Half the hassle of vacationing with kids is the journey to get to the destination. I shared 7 tips from my experience on how to ease this "pain". Another tip many people share is that don't go too far, but far enough to feel you have gone somewhere. I don't share that view - we have gone halfway across the world with our kids and they have been fine.

2. Rules are meant to be broken on vacation.

Before kids, we always thought we would be the ideal parents: give our kids proper, nutritious food like broccoli, restricting their screen time, making sure they go to bed on time, and so on. Of course, reality means at some times we are just happy if they are eating anything ... ANY THING ... and I don't care if they need an iPad to eat. But, generally, we have SOME rules. No watching TV at this time. Bedtime is strict. Mobile screen devices are restricted, etc.

When it comes to vacations, relax those rules. Kids don't really care if they are in Bali, Miami or Bluffer's Park, Toronto. A beach is a beach. Similarly they are not really interested in the delights of Barcelona's unique architecture. Let them also enjoy they way they want.

3. Travel within your budget.

A family vacation is expensive. Tickets are now not just for two, but more. Kids need their own beds, food. If, on the top of that, you are stressing about money, you won't enjoy your vacation. Unexpected costs come up during trips, like the $15 collectible drinking cup your child HAS to have at Universal Studios. So go somewhere you can afford to.

4. Co-operate with the "Planner" and be flexible.

Any vacation has to have a planner (unless it's just a beach vacation). In my family, I like to plan things and outline a vacation plan. When everyone co-operates with that plan, things go like clockwork. Of course, as planner, I also have to be flexible. I would LOVE it if everyone is up by 815 am and ready to go out by 930 am, but it's not going to happen.

5. You don't have to see everything.

This is something I realized even when we were just a couple. There are always too many things to see and too little time. Highlight the priorities, do what you can, and if you can, leave extra time that is unplanned so you can fill it as you need.

6. Document happy memories.

One of the best ways to make ourselves happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past, so making the effort to take pictures and videos, keep trip books, or gather souvenirs. I collect fridge magnets and souvenirs from every new destination I visit, and take pictures of every thing. I also found out that it's not the perfect picture of the sunset on Miami Beach that you will cherish, but the funny faces your children are making as they are running around on the sand.

7. Recognize your limits (and your kids).

Right now I am planning a vacation for visiting Canada's eastern coast. While it looks on paper that I can do a 8 hour drive every day, I know that once our trip is underway, after 2 hours I would be thinking "are we there yet". Learn from past experiences and recognize your own limits, and realize kids get sleepy or tired before you do. And they are less likely to be tolerant and adjustable.

Happy Vacationing!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What 'Love, InshAllah' and other so-called progressive Muslim feminists don't get

Look at the rubbish that Shahla Khan Salter wrote on Huffington Post.

Titled "To Our Muslim Sisters: Don't Let Faith Stop You From Getting Married", the article makes the point that Muslim ladies should feel free to marry non-Muslim guys.

I first saw this article when Love InshAllah linked to it from their Facebook feed. Even before I read it, Ihad an inkling of what the article would say, and why the authors of Love InshAllah would promote it.

To all Muslim feminists: You want to solve issues in Muslim societies? Solve them. Don't create new ones. Especially when the solution is already given and you don't like it because it doesn't fit your Western "feminist" views.
This article, like many on the progressive left, relegates religion to "do what feels right". In essence, they elevate an individual and their own feelings/desires over what is revealed by God and understood as such for generations.

Islam, like almost any religion, has laws. If someone doesn't want to follow those laws, that's fine, but calling oneself Muslim and then saying those laws are not really laws is like saying I am vegetarian but it's OK to eat chicken. These laws are not a buffet that you choose what you want. Like any religion, Islam severely restricts marriages to outside the faith. Only in some exceptional circumstances is it tolerated.

This article is saying you are Muslim but don't need to follow the law, it's OK. Marry outside the faith, it's fine. Islam says it's OK (actually it clearly doesn't). 

The article, and the author, tries to fit Islamic law to some Western sensibilities. The author is saying a husband doesn't need to be Muslim, but only has to "love" his Muslim wife and her "Muslimness" (whatever that means). The article adds that a woman has the ultimate freedom to choose her husband, any one she wants (not really: if she's Muslim she has accepted to live under some moral laws defined by God). The author goes on to say that since we face other challenges we should be able to marry whoever we want (not true, those other 'challenges' can be dealt with other ways).

The final advice itself is dangerous: "Follow your heart".

The whole concept goes against Muslim ethos which is "do not give in to your base desires if it goes against God's desire".

The so-called "progressive" Muslim feminists who form the bulk of Love InshAllah's fan club do not understand one clear thing: no matter how many times they post rubbish like this under the guise of "furthering dialogue" or "promoting an interesting point of view", real Muslims will stick to their religion, no matter how tough. 

Islam hasn't come to create problems, but to provide solutions. Muslim Feminists don't like this solution, so their create problems of their own.

Other articles on Muslim Feminism:

Why Muslim Feminists Don't Win

Why (Many) Muslims Have a Problem With (Most) Feminists

Friday, March 10, 2017

Woodbine Mall Fantasy Fair

Amusement arcades and rides inside malls seemed to be common in big malls in UAE. Even when I visited Sharjah, one of the malls there had a little amusement park with rides and arcade games inside. It's not something that's common here.

There was a huge amusement park inside West Edmonton Mall which we visited, and it was huge, but that's an exception. In Toronto, we have the Woodbine Mall Fantasy Fair.

We had a Groupon deal that let 4 people ride unlimited for $30, so we went there last Saturday. The centre opens at 10 am and we were there at 11 am. It was great, there wasn't much of a line up at any of the rides, and we got to do everything at a relaxed pace, which is no mean feat with two toddlers.

The train ride is a popular one, and it goes all around the "amusement park", and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it. I reflected that with the groupon deal, this was the first time I was actually riding the rides! Usually as father I am the one paying and taking pictures and not enjoying the rides.

Even though some of the rides had height restrictions, most of the rides were suitable for all kids (and adults).

If you were not into rides, they had some other activities like "rock climbing". What I liked most was that even the most "extreme" attractions were geared for being suitable for kids.

So even the ride usually known as 'drop zone' or 'freefall' was made sure it didn't go too high, and kids could ride in it, although this particular kid didn't seem to have enjoyed it a lot!

They also had dinosaurs all over the park, for some reason! Almost all types of dinosaurs, from the big to the small, herbivores to carnivores, were there on display, and these were moving and roaring! I don't really know why they were there; it didn't seem to fit under any theme and did nothing for the rides.

If you are visiting this place, I would suggest going early. It fills up very quickly and gets really busy on some days, especially long weekends.

There's no halal food food in the food court except a shawarma place. So if you are not a fan of that, and you can't eat anything else at the mall, you should either bring your own food.You can go in and out as many times as you like, there's no real "gate". They check you for tokens or tickets at every ride.

We had a stroller with us, but we could leave it beside the ride while we went on it. A stroller was also useful as the youngest one decided to sleep in the afternoon while one of us accompanied the older kid on the rides. It's also a great place to dump your jackets, caps and mittens!

Over all it was a fun morning and afternoon. Although the mall itself is nothing to write home about, you can have a good time at the Fantasy Fair, provided it doesn't get too crowded. Come early, and enjoy!